MANVERS MAIN. Wath-on-Dearne, Yorkshire. 4th. March, 1945.

Manvers Main Colliery was the property of the Manvers Main Collieries, Limited and there were four shafts at the colliery but in connection with the accident only Nos. 1 and 4 shafts need be considered. These served the Haigh Moor and Meltonfield seams which they intersected at 347 years and 122 yards respectively. The No.1 shaft was the downcast and was 13 feet in diameter and the No.4 shaft was the upcast, 16 feet in diameter. Mr. G.C. Payne was the agent of this and the Barnborough Main Colliery which belonged to the Company. Mr. E.J. Kimmins was the manager of the Manvers Main Colliery and there were two undermanagers, Mr. A. Wild was in charge of the No.1 pit in which the Haigh Moor and the Meltonfield seam were worked. The district in which the explosion occurred was last visited by the manager on 1st February and by the undermanager on 17th. February 1945.

The explosion occurred in the Meltonfield seam which was three feet nine inches thick, clean coal with a shale roof and a fireclay floor. It had been extensively worked in the district, usually by the longwall advancing system and in comparison to other seams in the district was not considered gassy but there had been explosions in the seam at other collieries.

Some years before the management decided to try intensive mining to increase production by installing power loading on the pillar and stall system in the colliery in the Meltonfield seam and the necessary machinery was made available by the Ministry of Fuel and Power. The system was abandoned because of difficulties with the span of the roof which was over 13 feet wide and was replaced by a retreating longwall system. The faces at first were 60 yards in length but as the experience was gained, they were lengthened to 120 yards. After being retreated for 55 yards, water from the Oaks rock above came through the roof and the faces stopped. A pillar of coal 35 yards across was left, after which another longwall face, 120 yards long was opened out beyond and retreated as before. Ordinary longwall machinery was used on these faces.

The North-West district was being headed at the time of the disaster with a view to opening out retreating longwall faces on this system and it was in this area that the explosion occurred. The report comments:

The longwall retreating method has been practised to a limited extent in this country for many years and there was nothing new in the system adopted in this case except that American shortwall machines and Joy loaders were used in the headings.

The opening out of the North-West district was done by driving two parallel roads, 13 feet wide and the height of the seam which were known as the top (intake) level and the bottom (return) level, with connections or slits at intervals of approximately 36 yards centres or 32 yards between the slits. There were later close by brock stoppings 4½ inches thick with opening three feet by three feet covered by brattice cloth left in some of them for the conveyors. From what was seen after the explosion Mr. Joseph Hall, of the National Union of Mineworkers, questioned whether the stoppings in the 5th and 7th. slits were ever there. From two levels three pairs of headings were driven to the dip. These were called 1’s and 2’s, 3’s and 4’s, and 6’s and 7’s and these were about 13 feet wide with a view to form panels for the extraction by longwall. The 1’s and 2’s had been standing for some weeks before the explosion. The faces of the 6’s and 7’s headings were undercut to a depth of seven feet by shortwall machines, holes drilled by Siemens-Schsckert drilling machine, and the coal then blasted and loaded by 12BU Joy loaders on to B.J.D., Type H.C. scraper chain conveyors installed in the headings and in the section connecting slit from the face. The chain conveyor in 7’s heading delivered on to a Meco gate belt conveyor which was at the top level and ran through the length of this level to the trunk gate conveyor gate 60 yards beyond the bottom of and running parallel to the North Plane. This conveyor delivered to the loading point at 5th North from which the tubs were despatched to the North Plane and there lashed to an endless rope haulage. No ripping was done in the levels or headings which were supported by steel girders set on wooden props.

For ventilation and inspection purposes the North-West development area formed part of the North district, the lamp station for which was at 5’s junction on the north Plane. The ventilation was produced by a fan situated at No.4 shaft which circulated 320,000 cubic feet of air per minute at a water gauge of 2.4 inches. The total quantity of air circulating in the north district of the Meltonfield seam as last recorded by Mr. Fretwell on 28th February was 34,368 cubic feet per minute when the measurement was taken on the North Plane. To ventilate the headings in the North district there were three auxiliary fans. One in 4’s heading which was driven by compressed air and the others were driven by electricity. The fan for the 6’s and 7’s headings was a Meco EF4 driven by a 5 h.p. motor and was at the junction of 7’s heading with the top (intake) level. The air was carried through canvas tubing, 16 inches in diameter, to the faces of the headings as required. When there was cutting and blasting in the 6’s heading the tubing was removed from the 7’s heading face and transferred by way of the last cross slit to the face of that heading. At the time of the explosion, the tubing was in the 7’s heading, suspended near the roof and according to the evidence of witnesses who saw it the previous shift, within eight or ten yards of the face.

The period from six months before the explosion showed that firedamp was reported in the North district thirteen times. On most of these occasions, the auxiliary fan was out of order or the tubing was partially closed by a fall of roof. When these conditions were remedied, the gas quickly cleared. Only five of these reports were of gas in the North-West area and on one of these occasions the men were withdrawn. This was on 1st. February 1945, when the deputy, Dobson, found gas at 8 to 8.30 a.m. and three percent firedamp was present in the “North-West top heading, due to a breakdown of the electric fan”. The statutory reports of. At 12.30 to 1 p.m. on the same day, a further examination was made and Dobson reported, “New fan installed, place clear and fence removed”. The manager who was in the district on that day stated that this had occurred when the top level had advanced beyond the 11th. slit and just short of the 12th., the lower level had reached the 11th. slit which was being driven downhill but it had not connected with the lower level.

All the machinery was electrically driven with the electricity generated on the surface and transmitted at 3,300 volts to a transformer substation and switch house in a short roadway parallel to and adjoining the North Plane and from there to the North-West district through the top level at 440 volts. The sub-station had two Reyrolle, Type F, oil circuit breakers, each fitted with earth leakage protection. One of the circuit breakers controlled all the apparatus in 6’s and 7’s headings and the other for 3’s and 4’s headings with the cable for this being taken along the lower level. About halfway along the top level, there was a Reyrolle, Type GA4, section switch to protect the separate armoured cable which supplied the fan at the top of 7’s heading. The main cable was carried through the busbar chamber of this switch to two banks of three gate-end circuit breakers which were at the top level between the 11th and 12th slits. They were connected by four feet of pliable armoured cable. The first bank of Reyrolle, Type GA1 switches supplied three conveyors. The second had Type GA1 switches with one controlling a flexible cable to the coal cutter in 6’s heading and the other, with a similar cable, went to the Joy loader in 7’s heading. A type GA2 switch unit controlled a flexible cable to the drilling machine.

The cable to the Joy loader had four cores and a bare centre earth conductor. The three insulated power cores were each surrounded by a copper screen, all in electrical contact with the bare earth conductor. The fourth core was used as the pilot and was unscreened. The Reyrolle GA1 switch was covered by the Buxton F.L.P. Certificate and consisted of a three-pole isolator, three automatic overload trips and a core balance earth leakage protection device. Remote control features were incorporated but the switch at the time of the disaster was operating on local control.

In 1936, a safety Department was set up by the Company which had grown and at the time of the disaster consisted of a Senior Inspector with two full-time Junior Inspectors, one at Manvers Main Colliery and the other at Barnborough Colliery, in addition, there were three assistants at the former colliery, two at the latter and five other members of staff. it was evident that the Company had shown an active interest in safety and had gone to considerable expense and trouble to ensure a high standard.

No one was left alive in the explosion area so no light could be thrown on what had happened. The position on the previous shifts, Saturday 3rd. March and in particular what happened on the afternoon shift of that day did provide some answers.

It had been arranged that during the weekend, modifications wee to be made in the method of conveying the coal in the 6’s and 7’s headings and the day overman, Harold Mann, in consultation with the deputies, planned the work to be done. The chain conveyor in 7’s heading, running from the face to the main belt conveyor in the top level, was becoming too long, and it was proposed to shorten it to deliver on to the chain conveyor in the second cross slit. The direction of this running was to be reversed and to install a belt conveyor in 6’s heading from the first cross slit to the top level fed by the chain conveyor from the face of 6’s heading and that in the second cross slit. To do this the driving gearheads had to be moved along with other parts of the machinery into the headings and to move them inbye, required the erection of the belt conveyor in 6’s heading. In the bottom level, no rails were laid, but there was a trolley or bogie with pneumatic tyres, one of which had been missing for some days and it was suggested that this might be used to transport material but there was no evidence that this had to be done. The only other solution was to move the pans which weighed two to three hundredweights by hand. After the explosion, the trolley was found opposite the 7th slit damaged and lying on its side with one wheel off.

On the Saturday, the day shift deputy, Frank Dobson, went down at 5.40 a.m. and came up about 1 p.m. He made two inspections on the North-West side, the second between 11.30 a.m. and 12.30 p.m. and he found that all was in order and failed to detect any firedamp in the headings. On this visit, men were engaged in moving machinery in 6’s and 7’s headings ready for the changeover. Coal cutting was done in 7’s heading twice during the shift and once in the 6’s heading. The coal cutter in 7’s heading was left about two yards from the face and that in 6’s heading on the low side of the second slit from the face. Both these machines were found in theses positions after the explosion.

The Saturday afternoon shift deputy, Laurence Wroe, went down the pit at 12.10 p.m. and came up at about 8 p.m. He had forty-three men in the North district, eighteen of whom were working in the North-West. Six of these men were moving pans along the return road and by the end of the shift he had got a number of men just beyond the chain conveyor in the 6th slit and others were on the outbye side. Four men were moving the chain conveyor gearhead down the 7’s heading from the top level by means of the Joy loader. Wroe’s first inspection in the North-West was made about 12.30 p.m. and he found all in good order. The second inspection was about 6 p.m. by which time all the men had left and in consequence of this he did not consider it necessary to inspect the face of the headings and he found no firedamp elsewhere. The auxiliary fan was not running at the time as it had been stopped by Crossley on his way put to the shaft when he switched off all current to the district.

Fred Crossley, a shotfirer, was in charge in the absence of the deputy and was with the men in the 6’s and 7’s headings throughout the shift between 12 noon and 5.30 p.m. when he went up the pit. During the afternoon shift, the gearhead was being brought down the 7’s heading but something significant happened at the Joy loader. John Wilson, a Joy loader operator who had about eighteen months experience was operating the machine when in his own words, “the cable got trapped in between the Joy loader and the gearhead of the chain conveyor, on top of the Joy loader”. There was slack cable in front of the loader and the cable got fast on a pommel screw. this was followed by a flash and the cutting off of the current. Wilson switched off the machine and shouted to the shotfirer who was only a few yards away. After the loader had been pulled forward by sylvesters a sufficient distance to free the cable and it was found, when it was examined, that the cable was punctured through one of the cores. Crossley saw that the rubber was punctured but he did not notice the exposed core.

The flash occurred about 4.30 p.m. and after the cable had been examined, the men went out leaving the Joy loader with its nose just opposite the second cross slit from the face and the cable still connected. It was found in this position after the disaster. The cable was not removed from the gate end switch and Wilson did not withdraw the pommel at the gate end switch because he did not think it was necessary. Wilson went out intending to neutralise the loader gate end switch but he found that this had already been done. He did not notice if the flag of the Joy rider switch had dropped which would indicate that the earth leakage had tripped but he took this for granted. It was assumed by Crossley and Wilson that the gate end switch and also the switch to the transformer had tripped. They knew that the supply could be restored only by an electrician authorised to do so and with the proper tools.

Shortly before this incident, Crossley proceeded up the heading to the top level where he found the fan had stopped which suggested to him that the current had tripped outbye. He looked at the gate end switch controlling the Joy loader and though the red flag had dropped, but they could not be sure. He put the isolating switch into neutral and saw that all the other five switches were in neutral. He made his way outbye at once to the transformer station at 7th. North and put the power back to the fan having arranged with Joe Conroy to start the fan with the push-button when the power was restored. To do this Crossley used his battery key which he had been told would do the job even though there were no electricians in the district that afternoon. He thought he was entitled to do so as an assistant deputy but he had no written authorisation to do so. By his actions, the electrical system was made live to the switch panels between the 11th and 12th slits.

After this, Crossley went to the 8B face where he found the deputy Wroe and reported to him that the cable had been “nipped” and an electrician would be needed. At the inquiry, Wroe did not remember being informed that there had been a flash on the cable but on coming out, Wroe left word with the onsetter that an electrician was to be informed next morning. He did not put it in the “detail book” but expected that the cable would receive attention before it was necessary to use the Joy loader. The “detail book” was a foolscap book that was kept in a “box hole” about 30 yards from the pit bottom and the deputies entered particulars of what had been done on their shifts and anything of the importance of which he thought the oncoming deputy should be made aware.

Mr. Shawcross put in a form of report sheet headed “Isolation of Face Machinery Report” and gave directions as follows:

This sheet is to be completed whenever face machinery is left unattended as at weekends or holidays or play days. It must be filled in by the deputies in charge of the last working shifts.

The report was as follows:

I have personally seen that the compressed air hoses or electric trailing cables are completely disconnected from ALL gate conveyors, face conveyors, coal-cutters, rotary boring machines and all other face machinery.

This had to be signed and dated by the deputies and countersigned by the manager and undermanager. Deputy Wroe had signed such a report for his Saturday afternoon shift even though the Joy loader trailing cable had not been completely disconnected at the gate end box.

Harry Ayscough was the deputy on duty on the night shift of Saturday 3rd March. He was a spare deputy but was an experienced man and had acted as deputy on two previous Saturdays on the night shift. At the inquiry, he gave a full and detailed statement of the events leading up to the explosion. Instead of going down the pit at 10 p.m. to make his pre-shift inspection, he descended the No.4 shaft at midnight accompanied by a shift of nine workmen, four of whom were to cut the 8B North face, four to move conveyor pans in the bottom level of the North-West and one, Charles Edward Leeman, to attend to the pumps of which there were three, two driven by compressed air in the headings of the dip of the North Plane and one, electrically driven at the side of the North Plane outbye of the transformer station. The former delivered into a standage near the latter from which the main pump delivered the water to the shaft bottom.

The electric power was off, but as it was required for cutting on 8B face and for driving the two auxiliary fans, the deputy switched it on as he went in. The men at work on the 8B face carried electric lamps and had no safety lamp or other detector with them as they ought to have had. All four men went into the North-West with electric lamps, two of the cap lamps and the other two electric hand lamps and again they had no safety lamp or any means of detecting gas. Leeman carried both an electric lamp and a safety lamp but this was found at the main pumphouse in the North Plane after the explosion.

The deputy proceeded down the North Plane taking with him the four men who were to work in the North-West and left them at the bottom while he went in and examined the workings. He returned and the men followed him down the plane and the four who were to work at 8B face proceeded to the bottom of 8’s loader belt where they waited for him. They then followed him in while he inspected the place of work. The inquiry pointed out that in doing this the requirements of Section 63 of the Coal Mines Act, 1911 and General Regulation 50 were not observed.

Ayscough said he expected the pumpman to go into the first pumphouse down the plane, look at the sump there and then go to the second pumphouse and inspect the sump and if this was full, to start pumping, or if it was not, to go down to his air pump. After leaving the bottom of the north Plane Ayscough went to the North-West by the top level as far as the 12th slit, then down the 7’s heading in the middle cross slit and out along the bottom level to the 1st. slit and back to where the four men were waiting for him. he did not go into the face of the headings as he did not think this necessary since no one was to work there on that shift.

He tested for gas against fan as he went in since that was the highest point and he thought that gas was most likely to be there. He found none and started the fan by putting in the isolation switch and then pressing the start button. The fan was the started after having been stopped for seven hours without an inspection of the district having been made. He made further tests for gas in 7’s heading by the first cross slit and at the junction of 6’s heading with the bottom level and found no gas.

At about 12.30 a.m he started his inspection of the North-West and he estimated that from leaving the men at the bottom of the North Plane until rejoining them would take about 15 minutes and no more than twenty. From the distance that he had to travel, it was evident that his examination must have been very hurried and there was doubt that he did in fact test for gas except at the fan. On returning to the four men at the North Plane, he sent them to their work and did not see them or Leeman alive again. After inspecting the workings on the other side of the plane and finding everything was in order, he admitted the men and then he went to the pit bottom where he saw Ernest Briggs, the onsetter. He left the pit bottom about 2.35 a.m. to make his second inspection and went inbye by the return as far as the belt conveyor, then through the separation doors at 6th North on to the North Plane and down to the Plane bottom. As soon as he saw the main belt there he realised that something was wrong because the belt was covered with a thin film of dust. There was a haze in the intake and dust was showing in the beam of his lamp. His first impression was that there had been a heavy fall. The time was about 3 a.m.

He went along the North-West top level to the 5th. slit and went down into the bottom level to get to the men but on reaching with two yards of the 4’s heading, the air was thick with dust and he could just see that there had been a fall on the chain conveyor. He adjusted his lamp to make a test for gas but breathing had become very difficult and he did not stay. He retreated by the 5th. slit to the, where he apparently switched off the current to the fan and went along and to five yards beyond the slit where he found 1½ to 2 percent firedamp and three yards further up he found 4 per cent..

He now knew what he needed assistance and started to come out but stumbled and fell and after crawling for about twenty yards he lost consciousness for some time. When he came to he found his lamp at his side, still burning and travelled outbye to the plane bottom where he was forced to sit down and rest. After some consideration, he decided to go to 8B face and get those men out. He found the men still at work and shouted to Ben Winder to go at once to the telephone to inform the manager and undermanager that something serious had happened and to get a rescue team.

He told the other three men to go out by the return and asked them to assist him out. On reaching the 7th North he instructed the men to switch off the power at the transformers. When they got to the main plane he sent Jack Winder up to the pumphouse to see if Leeman was there. Winder could not find Leeman and Ayscough concluded that he was also missing but he had no idea where he was. Ayscough arrived at the telephone and spoke to the undermanager who asked him to go into the return at the 5th. North and test the ventilation there. He did so but could find no firedamp but there was a strong smell in the return. After reporting to Mr. Wild what he had found, he enquired the time and was told it was 5 a.m. He then decided to go in again along the top level, taking Jack Winder with him. They go to within two yards of the 6th slit where he found that the dust had cleared a lot, and he saw that the junction had fallen in at the gearhead. Testing for gas he found 4 percent and considered it too dangerous to make further attempts to go on. They returned to the pit bottom where Briggs was instructed to cut off all the power in the pit. The inquiry was very aware of Ayscough’s brave conduct.

Ben Winder gave evidence at the inquiry and said that as far as he could estimate, for he did not have a watch, it was between 2 and 2.30 a.m. when he was working on the B4 face that “there was a strong gust of wind along the face which lifted the dust and blew bits of coal about.” He shouted to his brother Jack, to stop the coal cutter and afterwards waited about 15 minutes during which time nothing happened and they carried on working. At about 3.45 a.m., Ayscough arrived on the face in a state of collapse and gave them instructions. Winder said that on his way up the plane he found that the two inbye pumps had been started and they were delivering water into the standage there.

Harold Mann, the day overman, received the message from the undermanager at 5.15 a.m. which told him to go to the pit at once as there had been an accident. He got down the pit about 6.15 a.m. and contacted Mr. Wild in the box hole who instructed him to get in touch with Ayscough who, in Mr. Wild’s opinion, was not fit to remain in the pit. At the 5th North, Wild and Ayscough met and with Ayscough were F. Maltby, J. Hallam and Jack Winder from the 8B face. He waited there until the first rescue team arrived. Tom Holmes, a member of the safety department was the captain and held a 2nd Class Certificate of Competence. They had descended at 6.25 a.m. and they proceeded, taking Maltby with them.

Holmes, after getting all the information he could from Ayscough, went inbye with his team, coupling their apparatus at the bottom of the plane and got to the 6th slit on the top level where there was a fall completely blocking their progress. He tested for gas and found 4 per cent. He then went down the 5th slit to the return where he again found 4 per cent gas, along the level and got as far as the 8th slit where another fall completely blocked any progress. A short distance outbye of this fall there was a small fan with a girder across the roadway and one or two other girders dislodged. Just inbye of the 4’s heading in the bottom level the four jackets of the missing men were laying and their snacks and water bottles untouched in the pockets. Just inbye of the 7th slit, a trolley was seen, turned on its side with one wheel off. In Holme’s opinion, this had been done by the explosion.

Opposite the bottom of the 7th slit and reaching the top level they saw all the supports dislodged and heard heavy falls of roof taking place inbye. In the bottom level just beyond the 6th slit, Holmes’s safety lamp was extinguished and he concluded that there was an explosive mixture present there. The 7th slit was badly damaged and there was a fall of roof in it. Owing to the falls that were taking place and the levels being obstructed, he decided to retire with his team and on arrival at the fresh air base he reported to the undermanager and the captain of the following team.

An unsuccessful search was made for Leeman along the bottom level to the 1st slit and at the compressed air pump outbye of the slit. This was found to be running and was stopped. Leslie Phillips, a shotfirer, was the leader of the third rescue team which had stood by from 4.10 p.m. and went in at 8.05 p.m. They started to work at the fall in the bottom level of the 8th slit. An aperture had been made by the other team but it was not large enough for men to pass with breathing apparatus. After about an hour this team managed to get through and at 8.55 they found the body of Raymond Kelsey and those of J.W. Ollitt, J. E. Kelsey and B.J. Conroy all within eight yards of the face between the 10th and 11th slits in the bottom level. The first three were facing outbye and Conroy inbye, all face downwards. Only Conroy showed injury by violence and all were covered with a thick layer of coal dust. The team continued but found a heavy fall at the junction and retired.

Alan Wild, the undermanager was informed of the accident about 4 a.m. and after giving instructions to Ben Winder and Ayscough. He rang the agent, Mr. Payne, because the manager was away from home. Payne told the Divisional Inspector and Mr. Joseph Hall to arrange for the Rescue Teams. Wild arrived at the colliery about 4.45 a.m. and Payne was already there. They descended about 5.30 a.m. and remained at the pit bottom and at about 9.15 a.m., Tom Holmes came out with his team and reported the state of affairs in the workings. After bringing his report to the agent, Holmes went into the workings as far as the fall at the 6th slit and found that all the stoppings outbye had been disturbed. At the 5th slit, half the brickwork on the left side had been knocked out but the right side remained intact and some of the bricks had been blown into the lower level. He then returned to the 5th. North telephone and reported to the agent. He asked him to send four men and a supply of brattice to temporarily repair the stoppings. This work started at about 11 a.m. and was soon completed.

Later Major Humphrys, Mr. Miller, Mr. Hall, Mr. Jones and Mr. Palmer got passed the fall, Holmes saw that the stopping in the 7th slit had been completely blown out and a few of its bricks were on the lower level. Rescue teams continued working in relays at the fall on the top level and to secure the entrance to the workings. A fresh air base was established at the 7th slit and the compressed air auxiliary fan was moved to the 4’s heading, carried air to the fall. It was necessary for the men wearing breathing apparatus to work in the bottom level to secure the roadway and make it safe to travel.

Mr. Kimmins, the manager, had to get from Uttoxeter and arrived at the colliery about 6 p.m. and at once went underground to the North-West where he met Payne, Humphrys, Hall and others. The rescue men tried to get into the top level up the slits inbye of the 8th but were stopped by heavy falls of the roof. Major Humphrys was relieved at 10 p.m. by Mr. Houston, H.M. Senior Inspector of Mines and was present as the recovery work progressed. By the 8th March, it was possible for persons without apparatus to get into the headings with rescue men standing by and to the fan on the top level. On the following day the Inspectors, colliery officials and representatives of the men made a careful inspection of the workings.

Girders had been stripped out of parts of both headings, stoppings blown in in the 9th 10th and 11th slits from return to intake. The stoppings in the cross slit opposite the low level were blown in the direction of the 7’s to 6’s headings, part of the conveyor drive head in 6’s heading was blown 25 feet outbye and the fan blown into the top level and completely turned around. the blades were broken off and blown out of the casing and the fan tubing extensively damaged and shredded.

In the top level the conveyor drive head at the top of the 11th slit had been blown outbye and the switch panels and main cable damaged. The roof had fallen into a great height from this point to just outbye of the 7th slit and at other places had fallen to a height of two feet or more. The gearhead of the chain conveyor in the 6th slit had been moved bodily outbye for four and a half feet. There was little evidence of coking.

The search for the body of Charles Leeman continued until the 16th of March. While part of fall was being cleared from the inbye end of the top level, he was found lying under the top level belt of the conveyor which had been dislodged from the conveyor frame, alongside the gate-end switches near the 11th slit. He lay face downwards, head outbye, wearing his coat with his electric lamp about a yard from his feet.

The men who lost their lives were:

  • Raymond Kelsey
  • John Ollett
  • John Kelsey
  • Bertram John I. Conroy
  • Charles Edward Leeman

The Report of the Causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred on the 4th March 1945 at the Manvers Main Colliery, Wath-on-Dearne, South Yorkshire, was conducted by Mr. J.R. Felton, O.B.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines and reported to The Right Honourable Emanuel Shinwell, M.P., Minister of Fuel and Power on the 20th. August 1945.

By arrangement with H.M. Coroner for the City of Sheffield and the Rotherham District of Yorkshire,, Mr. Alan P. Lockwood, M.C.. The inquiry was held jointly with the inquest into the deaths of the men at the Town Hall Wath-on-Dearne. Proceedings started on the 23rd. May and finished on the 30th May 1945. The coroner summed up and returned the following verdict of the deaths of the men:

In each case, I find a verdict of misadventure. The cause of death in the case of Raymond Kelsey was asphyxia due to carbon monoxide poisoning and shock of burns. John Ollett, the same. John Kelsey, the same. Bertram John Conroy, a depressed fracture of the skull. Charles Edward Leeman, shock of burns and multiple crushing, fractures of injuries to the cranium, thorax and chest.

In each case, the other findings will be in terms that the deceased died on the 4th March 1945, in the underground workings of the Meltonfield seam of the Manvers Main Collieries, Ltd., at Wath-on Dearne in the West Riding of Yorkshire fro the causes already stated and that the deceased was involved in the early hours of the morning in an explosion of gas, firedamp, in the said underground workings. In my opinion, the evidence is not sufficient to determine conclusively all the circumstances of the explosion, but points to the following sequence of events:

a) A cable damaged on a previous shift, such damage exposing the core, followed by an earth leakage and a flash, and the cable being left attached to the switch-box

b) the failure of an automatic switch in the said box to trip out on such earth leakage

c) an emission and accumulation of gas, namely, firedamp, from a cause not ascertained

d) a failure of the ventilation from a cause not ascertained, but possibly due to obstruction by a fall

e) the inadvertent switching on of the power of the cable.

All interested parties were represented at the inquiry and evidence was heard from twenty-two witnesses. There was common agreement on the following points:

1) the explosion was one of firedamp and coal dust played little or no part,

2) it originated in 7’s heading in the vicinity of the Joy Loader and

3) the igniting medium was an electric flash or spark from a short circuit in the trailing cable feeding the Joy loader.

Opinions differed as to how the conditions for the explosion occurred.

Professor Statham supported the theory the manager was that there was fall at the bottom level of the 8th slit before the disaster which interrupted the ventilation and that at the same time, there was an abnormal and local emission of gas. This fall was extensive and it was difficult to see how the men would not try to get out when not occurred. Sir Hartley Shawcross, K.C., who was representing the Company, examined Holmes about the fall and it was possible that the fall had occurred after the explosion.

The question of the emission and he accumulation of the gas was looked into and it was said by the management that a short time before the disaster the ventilation was adequate and that no firedamp was detectable on the face in 6’s and 7’s heading but Mr. Houston thought that the emission of gas had persisted for some time. This could be explained by reference to old workings in the Barnsley and Parkgate seam which were 162 and 433 yards below the Meltonfield seam. A plane was produced by Mr. Kimmins which showed that the Barnsley seam had been worked in 1890 and left a pillar of solid coal which was again worked in 1932-37. There had been workings in the Parkgate seam in the same area. An opening out had been driven in 1911 and the coal on one side was worked and that on the other side left to for a rib. It was suggested that breaks along this rib would pass through the strata up to the Meltonfield seam. It was agreed that this was possible. Five days after the explosion firedamp was issuing from the two headings into the return. There was evidence of some small breaks in the roof but none in the floor. The inquiry came to the conclusion that it seemed reasonably clear that at some time prior to the explosion there was some additional issue of gas into the headings and it may have come from the seams below.

The ventilation of the headings was examined and the inquiry stated:

I desire to urge the importance of managers giving more careful study to the monthly records of air measurements shown in the air measurements book, with a view to excessive leakages being tracked down and corrective measures being applied to ensure the adequacy of the ventilation at all parts of the workings.

The source of ignition was thought to have been due to an electrical fault. The inquiry drew attention to the use of auxiliary fans and recommended that:

At collieries where auxiliary fans are used the managers should draw up a simple code of rules for the instruction of officials and workmen dealing with theses matters, including the periodic measurement of the quantity of air passing in the roadway at which the fan takes its supply and the quantity delivered at the safe and the person made responsible for taking and recording such measurements should be properly instructed as to the significance of the readings.


The report on the causes and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred on the 4th March 1945 at Manvers Main Colliery, Wath-on-Dearne, South Yorkshire, by J.R. Felton, O.B.E., H.M. Chief Inspector of Mines.
Colliery Guardian, 23rd November 1945, p.631, 30th. November, p.667

Information supplied by Ian Winstanley and the Coal Mining History Resource Centre.

Return to previous page